San Jose committee halts Charcot Avenue extension
Orchard Elementary School has been the center of debate around pedestrian safety for the proposed Charcot Avenue Extension Project. File photo.

Contentious plans for the Charcot Avenue Extension project in North San Jose are reaching the end of the road.

San Jose’s Rules and Open Government Committee on Wednesday unanimously recommended the city halt plans to build an overpass that would cross over Interstate Highway 880 from Paragon Drive to Oakland Road and divert the remaining $3.9 million in budgeted funds to one of two pre-approved road projects near Highway 101.

“I’m glad we’re at the point now that we can move on and focus on what I think are much more impactful transportation projects in the North San Jose region,” Councilmember David Cohen said during the meeting.

The move should come as no surprise, considering the years of community protest, a lawsuit from parents and teachers at Orchard Elementary School near the project site and the recent decision from VTA to divert its funds from the project to support other North San Jose transit projects.

Erin McCarthy, president of the Orchard Teachers Association, thanked lawmakers for working to end the project that the teachers have always opposed.

“I hope going forward we can actually end the project and work on that Vision Zero for San Jose,” McCarthy said.

A change in District 4 leadership, where the project resides, made it easier for the city to consider changing lanes. Cohen said reversing this project was one of his primary goals when he took office in 2021, six months after the City Council approved construction for the overpass.

“I’ve been working since I got on council to build a better understanding amongst other councilmembers about why the project was no longer the right project for the area,” Cohen told San José Spotlight.

He said the overpass may have made sense as part of the city’s general plan in 1994. At the time, the North San Jose area was mostly industrial, so an overpass would’ve supported the development and economic welfare of the region.

But in the last 28 years, the area changed significantly with a new elementary school and neighborhood. Construction of the overpass would require the city to widen Silkwood Lane, the road immediately behind the school, and take up part of the school’s baseball field to act as a connector for the overpass.

“That’s a route by which people walk to school in the morning, where people get dropped off to go to school. It wouldn’t have been as safe for students who live in the neighborhood,” Cohen said. “They were trying to use an old project and squeeze it into a space that it no longer fit and was no longer compatible.”

Cohen introduced the memo to stop the Charcot Avenue Extension project with Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Pam Foley.

Although the city has already spent roughly $2 million to draft and design the plans, Peralez said this is a “terrific time” to stop the project because construction hasn’t started. It’s also a fraction of the project’s estimated cost totaled at $54 million.

Peralez was one of the minority votes against the project when it was approved in June 2020, citing similar concerns as Cohen. To Peralez, the biggest problem was that building roads able to accommodate 20,000 vehicles was opposite the city’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“That alone warranted us rethinking this investment,” he told San José Spotlight.

While air pollution concerns prompted pushback from several environmental groups, most of the opposition to the project came from parents and teachers who created a nonprofit called Protecting the Children of Orchard School to sue the city in September 2020.

Since 2018, parents gathered signatures, wrote to the City Council and advocated against the project, citing concerns over having a major throughfare next to a school where roughly 200-300 students cross the street per day, former Orchard Elementary School parent Robin Roemer said.

“We were forced to sue the city,” Roemer, the nonprofit’s chief executive, told San José Spotlight. “It wasn’t something we planned or were looking forward to. But unfortunately, it became necessary.”

However, Roemer said halting plans for the extension project will help settle his group’s legal battle with the city.

Next, the full San Jose City Council will consider a vote to stop the project for good at an upcoming meeting.  If the project is halted, funding will be diverted either to the 101/Mabury interchange or the 101/Zanker Road improvement.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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